Love, American-Chinese Style


Valentine's Day is just around the corner, hiding like a troll under a bridge, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting passerby not carrying flowers and a box of chocolates. Have you ordered your flowers? Reserved your favorite table at the nice Italian place mentioned on Yelp as the place to go for a romantic evening?

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What? Me - Romantic?

My past Valentine's, the ones I can remember were always low key. I have never had one like the ones you see in womens' magazines. Then again, I am not the most romantic person, so I can't be let down because I don't have that Cupid/Eros/Venus DNA. I have always wondered if it was being Chinese or if it was just me.

If you travel down to Chinatown for dim sum, and if you are observant, you will notice that there are not a lot of PDAs (public displays of affections) amongst us Asians. We are just not a PDA kind of people. I can't think of one photo of Mao Zedong hugging a factory worker or slapping the back of a farmer, but if you Google "President Clinton Hugging," you will come up with 836,000 results - and that's just "hugging."

It's Kung Fu, Not Kiss You

If I asked you to name a lead Chinese actor, you would name an actor more known for their fighting skills than smooching. Of course Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are "hot," but given the choice of being across from them at a quiet French bistro or having them walk you home through the dark alley, you would pick the latter just to see them kick ass.

Early American stereotyping of the Asian male didn't help either. From the railroad coolie to the laundryman to Hop Sing in "Bonanza," we have battled the image of the effeminate male. Asian women are either hookers with hearts of gold ("Suzy Wong"), "Dragon Ladies" (roles in the 1920s played by Ana May Wong) or submissive "Madame Butterflies" (self-sacrificing surrogate mothers). If you ran this through eHarmony you would get a couple that would take one look at each other and run the other way.

We are romantic people, we just do it our own way. Riding the Hong Kong subway, I will observe young couples holding hands, standing side by side, sharing ear buds listening on a phone. When I greet my aunts and uncles, we don't hug, we wish each other good health; growing up, we never even hugged at home. I don't feel deprived, you can't miss something you didn't know existed. As a kid, getting hugs I would stiffen up and do a soft pat on the back of the hugger and then feel relieved once it was over. Hugging was level red alert. It's not easy to explain. The closest analogy is that we are the Vulcans of the Planet Earth. We even look a bit like Spock.

Here's to wishing you all a Happy Valentine's Day. And here's a virtual X & O (alert level green).

Live Long and Prosper, Just Hold the PDA.

Image: Collection of Ophelia Chong

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog.

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